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Latex Allergy

Latex allergy is the term used to describe a severe reaction to using latex gloves.

What is Latex

Latex is a tacky, milky sap that is produced by some types of shrubs, plants and trees including the commercial rubber tree (Havea Braziliensis). The latex sap is made up of tiny droplets that contain water and hydrocarbon polymer and have a coating comprised of proteins. The sap is used to make latex rubber, also known as natural rubber.
Various chemicals must be added to latex to give the natural rubber product the desired strength, stretch and durability properties. Latex gloves are generally powdered (with modified starch) to ease putting on and removal and to stop the gloves from sticking to each other. The proteins present in the latex leach out into powder that is then breathed in during use.

In the medical profession latex offers unrivalled protection against blood borne viruses and other biohazards and is also preferred as it does not hinder or reduce dexterity. However, latex gloves are now used in many other trades and industries and this widespread usage is resulting in a marked increase in cases of latex allergy.

What is Latex Allergy

Several researchers have identified a protein substance in natural latex as the major source of the allergy. However, chemicals such as zinc diethyldithiocarbamate (which is added to the latex) and cornstarch powder (found in new gloves) have also caused allergic reactions in sensitive people. Generally it is the protein in the glove material that has been absorbed by the cornstarch that causes the allergic reaction. Powder-free gloves cause fewer allergic problems.

Allergies to latex rubber have been identified as a serious concern for workers who become sensitised to latex gloves and other natural rubber products. Although the symptoms vary from case to case, the most common reaction to latex products is the development of dry, itchy, and irritated areas on the skin, usually the hands.

Other reactions may include rashes, asthma and hay fever-like symptoms from inhalation of proteins and skin blisters, which can spread away from the area of skin touched by the latex.
More severe reactions may involve respiratory symptoms such:

  • Runny nose 
  • Sneezing 
  • Itchy eyes 
  • Scratchy throat 
  • Asthma

How can latex allergy be prevented?

Protecting workers from latex exposure can prevent latex allergy. You should:

  • Provide workers with non-latex gloves 
  • Ensure that workers use good housekeeping practices to remove latex-containing dust from the workplace 
  • Provide workers with education programs about latex allergy

"Hypoallergenic" gloves are usually made from latex, so latex-sensitive workers should check what the gloves are made from.

Persons allergic to latex rubber products should consult an allergist to find out if they are actually allergic to latex (natural) rubber or to chemicals that are in synthetic rubbers. They should also advise their physicians and dentists so that they can decide if alternative products should be used in any treatment that normally requires the use of rubber products.

To reduce the risk you should:

  • Supply "reduced protein" gloves (Note: There is no standard or agreement on what constitutes "reduced protein" or "low protein") 
  • Specify powder free products 
  • Use gloves made from alternative materials such as: 
  • Vinyl - not so effective at reducing infection risk 
  • Plastics - currently not sufficiently robust 
  • Nitrile - performing well in tests, and whilst equivalent in terms of protection it is not as flexible

Next Steps

  • Source discounted products, available to Aviva insured customers and brokers, via our Specialist Partners - click here to find out more about the savings you could make
  • Call our Risk Helpline on 0345 366 66 66
  • Email us at riskadvice@aviva.com
  • View our Tools and Templates

Please Note
This document contains general information and guidance and is not and should not be relied on as specific advice. The document may not cover every risk, exposure or hazard that may arise and Aviva recommend that you obtain specific advice relevant to the circumstances. AVIVA accepts no responsibility or liability towards any person who may rely upon this document.

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